I love science. I love the way it has unlocked so many of the mysteries of the world and the universe. I love the advances we have made in technology and medicine in order to improve people’s quality of life. I love the way it is constantly tested and challenged to ensure progress for correct theories and that wrong ones are stopped in their tracks. I love the fact that it is evidence based, constantly proving to us new ideas and discoveries and expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and achievement.
I don’t love the way that it has been set up as some sort of antidote to God, and vice versa.
I’ve always felt that science and “religion” (for want of a better word) are two sides of the same coin; science explaining how things are and religion explaining why things are. One is based on rigorous testing and evidence, the other on faith, interpretation and observation.
Science cannot explain what gives something beauty. Why a flower is pretty, a piece of music is exciting or a piece of writing so moving.
Today I have visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. It’s a reconstruction, opened in the 1990s, of what the original is believed to have looked like. It is a stunning wooden structure with an open, thatched roof and the most beautiful artwork on its permanent set. It has been put together because of a collective love of theatre, particularly the works of one man who wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries and whose plays transcend all others in the English language.
But what makes that so? Why do Shakespeare’s writings survive and thrive 400 years after his death? Why is he so revered?
The main reasons are, firstly, that his use of language is so wonderfully creative and beautiful. So many of his words are used in every day speech (see the picture at the top). He had a way of writing that brings joy, laughter, sadness, anger, fear, power, love and so many other emotions to life.
That’s part of the second reason, the way he is able to explain so much of the human condition through his writings. Whether it’s the hopeless love of Romeo and Juliet, self worshipping pride of Richard II, the descent into depression of Hamlet, the ruthless ambition of MacBeth or the patriotic heroism of Henry V, Shakespeare was able to show us everything as it was, allowing us to feel sympathy, even for characters who committed awful acts as he paints a vivid picture of what internal and external influences drive them.
But all of this is taken on trust. None of it can be repeated under laboratory conditions because we all react differently to each other to different events and we all react differently ourselves depending on our state of mind.
We simply can’t explain why something we see, hear or feel affects us in a certain way. We can explain, as I’ve attempted to do, why Shakespeare is so endearingly popular, but not why he is more so than other writers or why some don’t like his writing at all. Ultimately it’s down to something too intangible to fully explain.
That’s how I feel about faith, about God and why the start of John’s Gospel sums it up so perfectly for me. It is written in such beautiful language, explaining Jesus in a way which makes sense, but I actually can’t explain. I can explain how he brings light in the darkness, helping us to see the world as it really is. I can see how he was there at the beginning, as part of the creation of the Universe.
But I can’t explain how he is God and is in relationship with God. I can’t explain how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God, but are one being as well as three. I can’t explain how,
“Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16 NIV)
I can’t explain it, but it makes sense to me. Even though I can’t quite make sense of it. In much the same way as Shakespeare explains humanity in a way in which I can explain by dissecting the words and actions, but can’t actually make sense of what that spark inside it all is which gives his writings such life, so the same is true of John’s writing. It is beautiful, moving and explains the nature of Jesus as divine perfectly, I just can’t tell you why that is.
And that is faith. It’s why faith and science are so different, but not incompatible. Some things defy explanation, because they just don’t need it. They simply are. They just make sense, and that’s all we need to know.